The secrets to shopping in Marrakesh
If you want to recreate some of your favourite Moroccan dishes at home, you will want to pick up a tagine, a cone-lidded earthenware pot. There are countless stalls, booths and shops shilling them, but there are a few food safety issues to be aware of before you make a purchase. Look for plain terracotta-coloured tagines. They are the only ones that should be used in an oven. Next, be sure the top fits snugly on the base – only well-sealed tagines circulate the heat and retain moisture during cooking. Be sure to season the tagine when you get home, first soaking it in water and then coating with oil and heating in the oven for an hour or two. If you prefer the more ornately glazed tagines or ceramics, never fear, they make great serving dishes. Just make sure to ask whether the glazes are lead-free and beware of any ceramics glazed in metallic. They definitely provide a more modern take on the traditional Moroccan shapes, but the glaze can be toxic if it comes in contact with any heat. Use the pieces only for cold food like candy or fruit. Or, better yet, think of more creative uses for them – plant flowers or store jewellery in them.
From Technicolor kilims to unspeakably soft cream-and-chocolate Beni Ourains, Morocco is justifiably famous for its carpets. But you need to think of a rug as an investment piece. Expect to invest some time in getting what you want for a fair price. Our number one magic carpet rule? Wait until the end of your vacation to attempt the purchase. The haggling savvy you hone over the course of the trip will serve you well in this most challenging of negotiations. Be well rested, well fed and prepared to spend at least an hour on the adventure.
Before you enter the shop, put away that pricey camera and watch. Be friendly upon entry, but watch your words. Sellers use your appearance and introductory chit chat – Is this your first trip to Morocco? How long have you been here? – to get a sense of how high they should start the bargaining. Say that you have been to the city many times before and, if you can pull it off, that you are a student. Then settle in for some mint tea while the shopkeepers pull down dozens of rugs for your perusal. After narrowing down the field, you can start the bargaining. There are no hard and fast rules for how low to go, but I had good luck starting at a quarter or less of the price. If you expect to have to ship it home, ask that they include taxes, service charges and shipping in the final price. Be aware that you will often be required to pay import taxes on goods shipped from abroad. Sellers customarily help lower those taxes by filling in a much lower price on the import documents than you actually paid. We leave it up to your conscience as to whether you want to correct the error. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.